Eau Claire’s top public health officer clarified a recent local order and provided final information on recent community testing for COVID-19 on Friday.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide safer-at-home order. A day later, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department issued a coronavirus “prevention and control” order that immediately lets all businesses, facilities, playgrounds, campgrounds and churches open, provided they follow public health guidelines. The order extends through 11:59 p.m. on May 28 and can be modified or extended.

Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said the order involves commonsense guidelines intended to limit coronavirus infections.

“It asks you, very simply, to follow proven public health principles that minimize the spread of disease,” Giese said.

Several counties in eastern Wisconsin on Friday rescinded local stay-at-home orders, but Giese said Eau Claire County included language in its order that local officials believe is legal and enforceable, though that is not its purpose.

“The order is a requirement; it’s not recommendations.” Giese said. “(But) our goal with this order is to never have to enforce it … Our goal is education.”

The county order is enforceable by a citation and monetary fine. Violators of the order cannot be arrested.

Giese trusts that citizens and organizations will follow the order.

“Our job is to make sure that citations don’t happen,” Giese said. “Our job is to make sure that people understand the problem and our job is to make sure that for the short period of time, hopefully, that we continue to have orders like this in place, that people change and follow the order.”

If a complaint occurs, law enforcement or a health official will respond, talk to the potential violator about the county order, indicate if the person is in violation of the order and ask the violator to begin following the order.

Those principles include minimizing travel, frequently washing hands, adhering to physical distancing, keeping contact circles as small as possible and staying home to quarantine for 14 days if traveling long-distance.

“Just because the safer at home order is gone doesn’t mean the virus is gone,” Giese said. “Just because we’ve gotten to a certain date doesn’t mean the virus spread has stopped.”

Giese said a state order is preferable to a local order, but that is not currently possible after the ruling.

“With a disease that is worldwide, doing this as a patchwork quilt on the local level is not the best practice,” Giese said. “It is not what any local health department wants to do, and certainly not what any legal counsel would prefer … It would be best to have a statewide order … The public health principles are true across our state.”

The Eau Claire County order includes:

  • All people on the premises, including employees and customers, must be six feet apart, “except for those contacts that are incidental and brief in nature.” (The rule doesn’t apply to people from the same household.)
  • Businesses must allow 144 square feet of space per household unit in a business, both inside and outside. Buildings can’t go over their occupancy limit.
  • Businesses must keep only the number of employees in the facility that is “strictly necessary to perform operations.”
  • Businesses must adopt policies to screen employees and customers for respiratory symptoms and if they’ve come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
  • Businesses must establish social distancing lines outside their facilities so people can stand at least six feet apart while waiting. Stores “should use alternatives to lines, including allowing customers to wait in their cars for a text message or phone call and scheduling pick-ups or entries to the store.”
  • Concerts, festivals, conferences, sporting events and other mass gatherings of over 10 people are still prohibited under the county order.
  • Religious gatherings are not subject to the 10-person mass gathering limit in the order but are expected to meet all other public health guidelines.

As of Friday, Eau Claire County has 67 positive tests, two more since Thursday. Wisconsin has confirmed 11,685 positive tests, 1,977 hospitalizations and 445 deaths.

Chippewa County did not issue a local order, but Angela Weideman, the county’s public health director, encouraged residents to maintain social distancing. Giese said Friday that legal counsel will be needed to determine if a small section of the city of Eau Claire in Chippewa County must follow the Eau Claire county order.

Dunn County announced Friday that all Dunn County buildings and facilities will remain closed to the public through the end of May. On or before June 1, 2020, the policy may be extended or amended.

“This is a prudent decision given that, despite the end of the Safer at Home order, COVID-19 is still a threat to public health,” said County Manager Paul Miller.

Community testing

Giese was encouraged by the small rate of positive results during community testing done with the aid of the Wisconsin Army National Guard in Eau Claire Sunday and Monday.

The two days involved 505 tests, six of which were positive for COVID-19. Giese said two of the positive results impacted people living in Eau Claire County and said all six people have been contacted and are in isolation.

Giese called the community testing “a good starting point” and hopes that similar events occur again in the near future.

Questions about the order should be directed to the Eau Claire health department’s COVID-19 hotline, 715-831-7425.